This is the Bildungroman (coming-of-age) story of an orphan taken in by the enchanter Dallben and raised by the former soldier and current farmer Coll, apprenticed as an Assistant Pig-Keeper, but with aspirations of heroism. The name is Taran, and the setting is a place not unlike ancient Wales, a magical and mysterious land called Prydain.
This is no Narnia, Hogwarts, or Middle-Earth, although there are strains of similarity between these series of fantasy novels. In my mind, almost all of Prydain has a foggy, gray quality once Taran (and by extension we the readers) steps foot outside the sunny and green sanctuary of Caer Dallben. The reason for this is that a shadow has indeed been spreading slowly across the landscape of this once prosperous and wealthy land, in the form of the Death-Lord, Arawn.
Before The Book of Three even begins, Arawn has already stolen most of the enchanted objects and secrets and powers from men and hoarded it away in his stronghold of Annuvin. Only the Sons of Don, a royal family of warriors from a distant land beyond the seas, have been able to fight against Arawn and keep his evil from overrunning the entire land. One of the most famous of these warriors, Prince Gwydion, is Taran Assistant Pig-Keeper’s hero and role-model.
The Chronicles of Prydain are what the juvenile fiction/young adult author Lloyd Alexander is best known for, and for good reason. Prydain is a vivid landscape peopled with dynamic characters who both learn from their adventures and teach the readers through their example. Written in expressive, yet simple language, it's much more accessible for younger audiences than The Lord of the Rings, yet covers themes of good-vs-evil, loss of innocence or purity, and the passage of time just as well. I have so much to say about this series (after all, it is five books!) that I'll be covering more specific aspects of this series in the next few entries.